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Anne Stuart’s BPM in Action

Dennis Byron

Do Stack Vendors Stifle BPM Innovation?

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Commenting back and forth about my recent blog post on business process management (BPM) "pureplays," Scott Francis and Mike Kavis brought up what us IT market researchers call bundling.

(Actually lawyers call it that too and it's illegal if it is used to help you achieve monopoly status in a market--see U.S. vs. IBM-1968; U.S. vs. Microsoft-1995, etc.).

But most of us think of it as just a good deal: "Buy this and I'll throw in that."

(In the IBM and Microsoft cases, you got the other products whether you wanted them or not. This was compounded by the fact that Microsoft's product in turn was almost bundled into a PC.)

Mike and Scott feel this stifles innovation for the "thrown in" product. I see their logic but I don't think this is true in general and I don't think it is a true of BPM sold by a stack vendor in particular.

In general, a product typically becomes a feature as it becomes a commodity. It has been innovated as far as it can go. Suppliers no longer can differentiate their products from others in the market place. Spell checkers separate from word processors are the classic example. And of course word processors have been subsumed into combined word/number/graphics processors.

In Mike and Scott's example, it's a piece of BPM-enabling software that's "thrown in" with an SOA stack. I don't think it works that way for BPM. If salespeople you've run into are positioning the BPM software functionality as the throw-in, they are doing themselves a disservice. Market research shows us that it is the "higher order" product (higher in the stack the way us IT folks think) that almost always has the perceived value. I believe the supplier community is adding the value at the BPM level going forward, not at the app server level and definitely no longer at the web server level (since they all build in Apache HTTP).

At least that's what the theory says.

And in the real world that is what the ultimate example of acquisitive stack vendor, Oracle, appears to be doing. In fact, I haven't talked to Oracle about this so I'm only guessing but I wouldn't be surprised if Oracle places the BPM acquired with Collaxa, BEA and others even above its ERP suite in its next-decade stack.

(Comment or email if you have had a salesperson tell you BPM was a throw-in. I'd like to interview him or her.)

-- Dennis Byron


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Nice post - blogged just today on a similar topic on how Professional Open Source appears to be a way to counter the innovation slumber. It isn't specific to BPM, but identifies it as one of the sectors.




I did not say that stack vendors stifle innovation. I was referring to the Appian CEO's comments where he was implying that.

Dennis, I think Oracle is in the process of (accidentally) making my point for me:

Of course, I can't confirm whether this tweet is accurate. But if so, it would confirm that stack vendors may starve BPM products in particular. I'm not sure why you feel it isn't true in general, and I'll give my anecdote for this.

You give the example of the spell checker. Clearly a spellchecker is the great example of a product that turns into a feature and gets bundled. And perhaps you're right that spell checking might have had nowhere to advance to and therefore made sense to bundle... But then, let's take another example: search. Sure looked like a bundling feature until Google came along. Would search have innovated as quickly as purely a feature in yahoo or microsoft or other companies? And they've innovated not just on search on the web, but search on the desktop. And their innovation has forced others to innovate to stay relevant... Maybe if someone had been able to survive as independent spell check, I wouldn't still be typing words that none of the spell checkers can figure out, but which are still easily looked up in a dictionary... and who knows what else they might have come up with and at what pace. But I think BPM is a little more significant than a spell checker (then again, I would have thought the same thing vis-a-vis search as it was defined in the late 90's, pre-Google).

If Oracle were selling with BPM at the "top of the stack" they would lead with their BPM pitch and $ value proposition, and then throw in a database or oracle applications for free. But that isn't how they approach it - they sell the value of the applications and the database, and you pay for those, and they staple a bpm license to the back of the contract and voila! you are the proud owner of a BPM product whether you paid for it or not. I'm not singling out Oracle, to my knowledge, none of the stack vendors lead with a BPM pitch when competing with other vendors who sell BPM...

To answer this question, perhaps you can ask the stack vendors to list the innovation they have done in the BPM space? I am drawing a blank, but I missed something in the last 10 year

It is about the resultant application to deliver how people and business works i.e. supporting BPM as a discipline - the real issue is how to you get this quickly with subsequent agility. A single unified tool is far better and cheaper than a "component" stack that such as IBM, Oracle or Microsoft offer in their component approach to lock in sold to developers. Buyers beware...."the throw in" is likely to be yesterday's technology!

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Business process management and optimization -- philosophies, policies, practices, and punditry.

Anne Stuart

I am the editor of ebizQ.

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